Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Supreme Court continues to rule against tribes and Indian country

On April 6, 2009, the Court decided United States v. Navajo Nation (Navajo II), part of the ongoing litigation between the Navajo Nation, Peabody Coal and the United States (as trustee) which reached the Supreme Court in 2003. In Navajo I, the Court had held that the Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1938 (IMLA) and its regulations did not constitute the substantive source of law necessary to establish specific trust duties which mandate compensation for breach of those duties by the Government, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. On remand the Federal Circuit held that provisions of the Navajo-Hopi Rehabilitation Act of 1950 and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) create specific trust duties which the Government had violated, as well as their violation of the “common law trust duties of care, candor, and loyalty” that arise from the comprehensive control exercised by the Government over tribal coal. Justice Scalia, writing for the Court, found that the IMLA governed the coal lease at issue here and, as the Court held in Navajo I, the IMLA does not constitute the requisite substantive source of law. Click here to read more.